Zheng G, Chen J, Stefflova K, Jarvi M, Li H & Wilson BC
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2007

Molecular beacons are FRET-based target-activatable probes. They offer control of fluorescence emission in response to specific cancer targets, thus are useful tools for in vivo cancer imaging. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a cell-killing process by light activation of a photosensitizer (PS) in the presence of oxygen. The key cytotoxic agent is singlet oxygen (1O2). By combining these two principles (FRET and PDT), we have introduced a concept of photodynamic molecular beacons (PMB) for controlling the PS’s ability to generate 1O2 and, ultimately, for controlling its PDT activity. The PMB comprises a disease-specific linker, a PS, and a 1O2 quencher, so that the PS’s photoactivity is silenced until the linker interacts with a target molecule, such as a tumor-associated protease. Here, we report the full implementation of this concept by synthesizing a matrix metalloproteinase-7 (MMP7)-triggered PMB and achieving not only MMP7-triggered production of 1O2 in solution but also MMP7-mediated photodynamic cytotoxicity in cancer cells. Preliminary in vivo studies also reveal the MMP7-activated PDT efficacy of this PMB. This study validates the core principle of the PMB concept that selective PDT-induced cell death can be achieved by exerting precise control of the PS’s ability to produce 1O2 by responding to specific cancer-associated biomarkers. Thus, PDT selectivity will no longer depend solely on how selectively the PS can be delivered to cancer cells. Rather, it will depend on how selective a biomarker is to cancer cells, and how selective the interaction of PMB is to this biomarker.

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